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Eaten for more than 5,000 years, quinoa continues to rise in popularity today thanks to its impressive nutritional profile.
High in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, it’s also an excellent source of protein and naturally gluten-free.
Although, quinoa is more than just nutritious. It comes in a variety of colors, each with subtle differences in flavor, texture, and nutrition.
Red quinoa, in particular, can add a pop of color to your dishes.
This article tells you everything you need to know about red quinoa, including its nutrition, benefits, and culinary uses.
Red quinoa comes from the flowering plant Chenopodium quinoa, which is native to South America.
Also called Inca Red, it was the choice of Inca soldiers, who believed the red color gave them strength during battle.
Uncooked, red quinoa seeds are flat, oval, and crunchy.
Once cooked, they puff up, forming small spheres similar in shape to couscous, and take on a fluffy-yet-chewy texture.
Though described as red, these seeds can sometimes have more of a violet color (
Despite being considered a whole grain due to its nutritional profile, quinoa is technically categorized as a pseudocereal, as it doesn’t grow on grass, like wheat, oats, and barley (
Still, it’s prepared and eaten the same way as traditional cereal grains.
Red quinoa is also naturally gluten-free, making it a good choice for those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.
Technically a pseudocereal, red quinoa is naturally gluten-free but still has the nutritional benefits of a whole grain. When cooked, it fluffs up and has a chewy texture.
This ancient seed is rich in fiber, protein, and many important vitamins and minerals.
Particularly, it’s a good source of manganese, copper, phosphorus, and magnesium.
One cup (185 grams) of cooked red quinoa provides (
- Calories: 222
- Protein: 8 grams
- Carbs: 40 grams
- Fiber: 5 grams
- Sugar: 2 grams
- Fat: 4 grams
- Manganese: 51% of the Daily Value (DV)
- Copper: 40% of the DV
- Phosphorus: 40% of the DV
- Magnesium: 28% of the DV
- Folate: 19% of the DV
- Zinc: 18% of the DV
- Iron: 15% of the DV
The same serving size also offers more than 10% of the DV for thiamine, riboflavin, and vitamin B6, all of which are essential for proper brain function and metabolism (
Notably, quinoa is higher in protein than many other cereal grains, including wheat, rice, and barley (5).
In fact, it’s one of the few plant foods that contain all nine essential amino acids, including lysine, which most grains lack. Thus, red quinoa is considered a complete protein (
Compared with other colors of this seed, red quinoa has approximately the same number of calories and amount of fat, protein, carbs, and micronutrients. What sets it apart is its concentration of plant compounds.
Specifically, red quinoa contains betalains, which have antioxidant properties and are responsible for giving this variety its signature color (
Red quinoa is considered a complete protein, as it provides all nine essential amino acids. It’s also a good source of fiber, antioxidants, and many minerals.
Current research hasn’t looked at the health benefits of red quinoa specifically. Still, various studies have evaluated the benefits of its components, as well as quinoa in general.
Rich in antioxidants
Regardless of the color, quinoa is a good source of antioxidants, which are substances that protect or reduce damage to your cells caused by free radicals.
In a study on the antioxidant properties of four colors of quinoa — white, yellow, red-violet, and black— red quinoa was found to have the highest antioxidant activity (
It’s particularly rich in flavonoids, which are plant compounds with antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anticancer properties (
In fact, one study observed that cooked red quinoa had significantly higher levels of total polyphenols, flavonoids, and overall antioxidant activity than cooked yellow quinoa (8).
Red quinoa is particularly high in two types of flavonoids (
- Kaempferol. This antioxidant may reduce your risk of chronic illnesses, including heart disease and certain cancers (
- Quercetin. This antioxidant may protect against many conditions, including Parkinson’s disease, heart disease, osteoporosis, and certain types of cancer (11,
Additionally, red quinoa contains plant pigments with antioxidant properties, including betaxanthins (yellow) and betacyanins (violet), both of which are types of betalains (14).
Betalains have been shown to offer powerful antioxidant effects in test-tube studies, protecting DNA against oxidative damage and providing possible anticancer properties (
However, human studies are needed to confirm these effects.
May protect against heart disease
The betalains in red quinoa may also play a role in heart health.
In one study in rats with diabetes, consuming 91 and 182 grams of betalain extract per pound (200 and 400 grams per kg) of body weight significantly decreased triglycerides, as well as total and LDL (bad) cholesterol, while raising HDL (good) cholesterol (14).
Though studies on beetroots, which are also high in betalains, show similar results, these effects have not yet been researched in humans (
Red quinoa may also benefit heart health because it’s considered a whole grain.
Numerous large population studies associate whole grain consumption with a reduced risk of heart disease, cancer, obesity, and death from all causes (
High in fiber
Red quinoa is high in fiber, with just 1 cup (185 grams) of cooked seeds providing 24% of the DV.
Diets high in fiber have been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease, several types of cancer, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and death from all causes (
Red quinoa contains both insoluble and soluble fiber, both of which offer unique benefits.
Soluble fiber absorbs water and turns into a gel-like substance during digestion. As a result, it may increase feelings of fullness. It may also improve heart health by lowering total and LDL (bad) cholesterol levels (
While soluble fiber tends to get more attention, insoluble fiber is important as well, as it may help maintain good bowel health and play a role in preventing type 2 diabetes (
In fact, one review found that diets high in insoluble fiber were associated with a significantly reduced risk of type 2 diabetes (
Nutrient-dense and gluten-free
As a pseudocereal, red quinoa doesn’t contain gluten, which is often found in traditional cereal grains like wheat, rye, and barley.
Therefore, it’s a good option for people with celiac disease or gluten intolerance.
While avoiding gluten is necessary for some individuals, long-term observational studies indicate that gluten-free diets are often inadequate in fiber and certain vitamins and minerals, including folate, zinc, magnesium, and copper (
Given that quinoa is a good source of fiber and these minerals, adding it to your diet may significantly improve your overall nutrient intake if you follow a gluten-free diet (
Additionally, studies indicate that a long-term gluten-free diet may raise your risk of heart disease due to increases in triglycerides, as well as total and LDL (bad) cholesterol (
However, a study in 110,017 adults noted that gluten-free diets that are adequate in whole grains are not associated with an increased risk of heart disease (
Red quinoa is higher in antioxidants than many other varieties of quinoa. It’s also high in fiber, may protect against heart disease, and can improve the nutrient quality of a gluten-free diet.
Red quinoa has a stronger, nuttier flavor compared with the more common white variety. It can also take a few minutes longer to cook and results in a heartier, chewier texture.
Because it holds its texture slightly better than white quinoa, it’s a good choice for grain salads.
Other ways to incorporate red quinoa into your diet include:
- using it in place of rice in a pilaf
- tossing it with fall vegetables and a maple vinaigrette for a seasonal side dish
- making a breakfast porridge by simmering it in milk and cinnamon
- adding it to casseroles in place of rice
- sprinkling it onto salads for extra texture and protein
As with other types of quinoa, make sure to rinse red quinoa before use to get rid of the bitter outer coating, also known as the saponins (
Additionally, rinsing can help reduce plant compounds called phytates and oxalates. These substances can bind certain minerals, making it harder for your body to absorb them (
Red quinoa is prepared similarly to other types. Simply simmer it in liquid in a 2:1 ratio by volume, with 2 cups (473 ml) of liquid for every 1 cup (170 grams) of raw quinoa.
Red quinoa is heartier and nuttier than the white variety. As with other types of quinoa, it’s versatile and can be swapped in for other whole grains in your favorite recipes.
Red quinoa is rich in protein, fiber, and many important vitamins and minerals.
Plus, it’s higher in antioxidants than other varieties of quinoa, which may benefit heart health.
As a gluten-free pseudocereal, it may also improve the overall nutrient quality of a gluten-free diet.
Still, you don’t have to be gluten-free to enjoy its vibrant red color, chewy texture, and nutty flavor.
If you want to add variety and a pop of color to your next meal, you can buy red quinoa locally or online.